ALTON — Ralph McClain, who served as an Alton High football coach during its glory days era, died the past weekend at age 92.
McClain guided the Redbirds from 1959-64 and compiled a 38-18-1 record, including five winning seasons in six years. Alton was 8-1 in 1959, 6-3 in 1960, 7-2-1 in 1961, 7-2 in 1962, 7-3 in 1963 and 3-7 in 1964.
The Birds experienced plenty of football success from 1956-71, starting with Chuck Studley and concluding with Ed Yonkus. They posted a 100-46-4 mark and annually competed for Southwestern Conference championships. McClain also served as an assistant basketball coach for Elgie Posey on the 1955 AHS team that qualified for the Sweet 16 in Champaign.
Besides teaching, McClain served as an Alton administrator, working as an assistant principal at the high school until his retirement in 1988.
"He did a lot of different things," recalled Jim Wigger, the former Alton High track coach and a friend of McClain. "He was a fine guy and helpful to everybody."
Wigger directed the Redbirds to state track championships in 1963 and 1964. He worked closely with McClain since football and track tended to go hand-in-hand.
"I gained much from him," Wigger said. "He wasn't what you would call a demanding guy, but he was a no-nonsense guy and he was well-loved. When he said something, it mattered and everybody paid attention to him. He had a lot of influence.
“He was a great guy.”
Ralph Franklin McClain was born on January 29, 1923, in Mayfield, Ky., to Roberta and Noble McClain. Ralph married Mary Lou Davis on Feb. 7, 1943 and they were married for 72 years. She survives.
After graduating from Mayfield High, he played football as a fullback/punter at Murray State University in Murray, Ky. On Jan. 1, 1949, he played in the Tangerine Bowl and helped Murray State get a 21-21 tie with Sul Ross State in Alpine, Texas. One of the players on Sul Ross State was Dan Blocker, later to become Hoss Cartwright on the television show Bonanza.
McClain enjoyed his years teaching and coaching in Alton and cherished instructing students and athletes. He prided himself on leading by example.
In addition to his wife, survivors include: children, Pam (Jim) Youngblood, Tanya (Greg) Collins, Bart (Louetta) McClain, and daughter-in-law Sally McClain. He is survived by nine grandchildren, Mary Ann (Mike) Vahl, Chris (Kelly) Youngblood, Sarah (Rich) Sitz, Hunter McClain, McClain Thompson, Samuel (Liza) Thompson, Hadley Thompson, Morgan (Cameron) Chappell, and Anna McClain. He also leaves 10 great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild to be born in October.
Memorials may be made to Calvary Baptist Church, Gideons International, or Land of Lincoln Honor Flight.